We are beloved companions on a mystic journey, sharing our solitude and holding the world in the divine prayer of love.

"Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory. Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance. And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation."
- from St. Clare's third letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Game of Life




During this hectic shopping season, we’ve been bombarded with ads for video games, board games, interactive games like Foosball—as well as nonstop TV sports. They recalled for me the inscription on playwright John Gay’s tombstone:
Life is a game and all things show it.
I thought so once and now I know it.
Our lives, in fact, do spin out through a series of games, each with its own language, rules, conditions, uniforms and goals. Some obvious examples are the student game (pursuit of knowledge), the Wall-Street game (wealth), war games (domination), political games (power), the married-with-children game (family)—and yes, we seekers must include the contemplative journey game (enlightenment or mystical union).

This last insight in particular underscores our absolute need for surrender in the spiritual quest, for until we finally release the journey itself, we will never glimpse the ultimate reality hiding behind it. Until that happens, of course, we play our hands as well and respectfully as we can, but we must remember always that the ego is a participant through most of the game’s twists and turns. It would happily announce to all and sundry (albeit humbly) that it has at last achieved the empty state of nirvana. No, we must in the end let go of all these encumbrances, of the small self, the journey and the wish for union itself, and yield to Love on Its own terms.

Truly, this pilgrimage is the game of life, and why Divinity requires us to play, who knows? Apart from any speculation, however, this trek across the terrestrial globe is the reality of our existence. If nothing else, it’s a marvelous adventure. The quest for the homeland literally gives meaning and purpose and enjoyment to our time here.

“From where do you come?” someone asked the holy Rabia.
“From the other world,” she replied.
“And where are you going?”
“To the other world”
“What are you doing in this world?”
“I am making a game of it.”

Laughter, or at least bemusement, seems after all to be the healthiest response to life’s serious pretensions, oddness and absurdities.
-John R. Sack

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Other Genealogy of Jesus



A Guest writer provides the other genealogy of Jesus, on the women’s side. Here it is:
A genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of Miriam,
the daughter of Anna:
Sarah was the mother of Isaac,
And Rebekah was the mother of Jacob,
Leah was the mother of Judah,
Tamar was the mother of Perez.
The names of the mothers of Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon
and Salmon have been lost.
Rahab was the mother of Boaz,
and Ruth was the mother of Obed.
Obed’s wife, whose name is unknown, bore Jesse.
The wife of Jesse was the mother of David.
Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon,
Naamah, the Ammonite, was the mother of Rehoboam.
Maacah was the mother of Abijam and the grandmother of Asa.
Azubah was the mother of Jehoshaphat.
The name of Jehoram’s mother is unknown.
Athaliah was the mother of Ahaziah,
Zibiah of Beersheba, the mother of Joash.
Jecoliah of Jerusalem bore Uzziah,
Jerusha bore Jotham; Ahaz’s mother is unknown.
Abi was the mother of Hezekiah,
Hephzibah was the mother of Manasseh,
Meshullemeth was the mother of Amon,
Jedidah was the mother of Josiah.
Zebidah was the mother of Jehoiahim,
Nehushta was the mother of Jehiachinm
Hamutal was the mother of Zedekiaj.
Then the deportation to Babylon
the names of the mothers go unrecorded.
These are their sons:
Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel,
Abiud, Eliakim, Azor and Zadok,
Achim, Eliud, Eleazar,
Matthan, Jacob and Joseph, the husband of Miriam.
Of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.
The sum of generations is therefore:
fourteen from Sarah to David’s mother;
fourteen from Bathsheba to the Babylonian deportation;
and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation
to Miriam, the mother of Christ.
Compiled by Ann Patrick Ware
of the Women’s Liturgy Group of New York

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Death In The Family




If you follow Christin’s Facebook posts, you’ve seen pictures these last two days of the fawn who come onto our porch and stared through the window as if to say “I need help.” She proceeded down past the benches and through the railing began gorging on a bush and berries that we’d seen no deer touch before. Whether she was trying to purge or downing the equivalent of Socrates’ hemlock, we couldn’t guess. Then she curled up against the warm wall of the house to await the inevitable.





 I thought of the old man Silas in Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man” who came “home” to Mary and Warren’s house for his final hours. 

“Euthanize her,” said the biologist when we called Fish and Wildlife. “It’s the right thing to do.” But which of us could pull the trigger? We’d admired and loved this fawn and her brother since they were spotted newborns. We decided instead to keep her as comfortable as possible and talk her through her passing. She finally let go in subfreezing temperatures about 3 am the next morning. 

We took her down the hill to our lower woods at daybreak and settled her remains at the base of a sturdy double-trunked oak. She half disappeared into the fallen leaves, disguising herself as a broken limb in her dark grey coat. 

That afternoon, the mother and her other fawn (the one-spiked unicorn) froze for a moment on our lawn staring down the hill as if they’d caught a whiff of the body. They’d had a death in their family, as had we, for we feel a true kinship with all the wild things who share “our” land. 

Rest in peace, little girl.
                                             -John

                                                                   



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mystic Mountain


We interrupt this blog for a brief commercial. I’ve just published Mystic Mountain: the Ascent to Love. 
 The book’s basic premise is that the current elder explosion has opened the door to unparalleled soul work, the wisdom that comes with age. I’ve tried to use clear, nonacademic language to stir the boundless spirit, the miracle of transformation, dormant in each of us. For those fast upon their wisdom years, yearning to live as closet or cloistered contemplatives, I light the mystic path as it shines through the larger journey from birth to return. General readers will gain a profound introduction to the mystic way. Those already en route as beginners or proficients will find here a practical guide through rising levels of awareness. In keeping with our new era of interspirituality, I draw on wisdom traditions worldwide, from Sufi to Sikh, Shaman to Christian, Buddhist to Hindu, Jewish to Jain, striving to piece into one the fragmented shards held by each while leading readers through a spectrum of spiritual masters. I write as well from my own experience as a Trappist monk and a student of Hindu/Buddhist philosophy.
The print version of Mystic Mountain (grey cover) can be ordered for $9 (plus S&H) from Amazon or from http://www.createspace.com/4435707 The Kindle version (Mystic Mountain Nebula on cover) sells for about $5 on Amazon. Amazon also has free apps called “Kindle for PC” (and Apple) that let you read Kindle books on your computer. If you’re short of cash, but would like to read the book, you can email me at cyberscribe2@hotmail.com and I’ll send you a free copy as an email attachment. Just let me know whether you’d prefer the Word or PDF version.

Thanks for your patience. I’ll also be excerpting from the book in future blogs now that it’s finally finished.

                                                                                                            John

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the Pacific at Brookings, OR
A glimmer of something more this day, the sun at my back, the surf washing thought away, washing the soul clean of sadness and of soil. Intake of breath. That we are part of this; that we are of this; that we are this. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

MY PEOPLE


These are my people. They turn out to be master-teachers, as I discovered when I visited them recently where they live in Minnesota. They are Varrah Claire, Savina Elise, Avari Isabella, Kaleesi May, and David Keegan. They teach not in words so much as by experience. Probably you who are mothers and fathers already know this, but I--not having lived the day-to-day with children of my own--could speak words derived from experience, but seldom did I experience purely, wordlessly.

What makes these children such powerful teachers is that nothing stands between them and the experience of being. Varrah awakened me to my own distances. Looking into her eyes and listening to her talk to me I was suddenly aware that I didn't need to protect myself from anything at all. She wouldn't, couldn't hurt me; she had no thought of it at all. Surprise filled me--I didn't know I'd set a barrier between myself and probably everything and everyone. And the barrier is thought itself. I'm a writer. It's how my mind works -- giving experience form in words. But Varrah and I, we don't need words or barriers.

And little Savina merged with me, falling asleep with her ear above my heart. My tears fell because as I kissed the top of her head I felt the presence in her of my sister, Liz--her grandmother whom I held and kissed the same way when I was nine years old. With Savi I experienced the connections beyond time and space.

Avari and I walked hand in hand. She showed me paradox of which I've written so often. But in her the paradox is real in a person who knows nothing of it that she could put into words. The paradox is pure. I suppose that I could finally 'see' it as it is.

Kali is as her name suggests. Those big eyes of hers can communicate the full range of human emotion. At the Renaissance Fair she sat, a queen, on the Throne of Swords as two knights bent their knees and offered her their obeisance. In the child the beginning and ending is pure, creation and destruction can be accepted as the great round they are.

David is a mystic. Time and again he set a little walking toy on a ramp. Once he could make it walk he entered what seemed a complete ecstasy. Arms straight and stiff, hands clenched into fists, his body trembling with the awe of it. Or maybe he's a scientist. Or maybe an artist. He's what I seem to reach for. And he IS it.

This morning during contemplation the words "My people, my people..." repeated on my breath. The faces of the children, but not only the children, really every person who has wandered through my life and by some grace remains an occupant of my soul. And it came to me that each human being is given a people. It is this People that makes up our individual world. It came to me that though I might have done many things in my life, the most crucial must always have been and continue to be the choice of love for the people I've been given, the choice to serve the People, the choice to honor them and remember them and learn from them. And if I would need to choose one focus to occupy what remains of my life, it would have to be that. The People I've been given.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Guest Writer: Abraham Joshua Heschel

Yesterday John was reading Hecshel's book, A Passion for Truth, and came across this:

"The greatest sin of man is to forget that he is a prince--that he has royal power. All worlds are in need of exaltation, and everyone is charged to life what is low, to unite what lies apart, to advance what is left behind. It is as if all world, above and below, are full of expectancy, of sacred goals to be reached, so that consummation can come to pass. And man is called upon to bring about the climax slowly but decisively.

Nothing, therefore is accidental. Even an intruding thought does not come at random. A thought is like a person. It arrives because it needs to be restored. A thought severed, abused, seeks to be reunited with its root. Furthermore, it may be a message sent to remind a man of a task, a task he was born to carry out.

All facts are parables; their object is God. All things are tales the Teacher relates in order to render intelligible issues too difficult to comprehend literally, directly. Through things seen, God accommodates Himself to our level of understanding. What a shame it is that people do not comprehend the greatness of things on earth. They act as if life were trivial, not realizing that every trifle is filled with Divinity. No one makes a move that does not stir the highest Heaven."

(Please forgive brother Abraham's use of non-inclusive language. I seriously doubt that he intended to exclude those of us who are "She" and also part of humanity--holding up, as they say, half the sky.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Before I Die



The hawk rides the air over the hollow, wings fanned, a cry that scatters all creatures small enough to be grasped by those talons. Shiku ducks underneath the deck. Mo growls. We are coming up the hill from the mailbox. The cry. Mo looks to the sky and pulls at his leash. How does he know? Shiku knows because she almost was taken, once, as a kitten preening herself on the railing of the deck, when suddenly the hawk swooped and was on her, wings beating, covering her. She didn't try to move. John believes she succumbed to the inevitable. But he, right there, rose up, waved his own human wings and cried out his own human cry against the bird. Hawk abandoned the kitten crouching under the churn of rising wings and flew away.

Danger rides the air and what are we to do? Terror rides the currents disguised as beauty. Or is it the other way around?

What fragile creatures walk the earth, all of us, even the hawk feels fragile in the current of John's human wings. We are all mere breath and bone. How take it in? How hold it in the heart? Because we must if we choose to live and be full-blown. Bones of glass, sand set to fire, made liquid, shaped with breath.

Before I die may I breathe in everything I see, hear, smell--everything that touches me or is touched. May everything, one at a time, drift on breath through mind and heart and soul and along the pathways of spine and nerves into my emptiness. And may I be formed, each bone, with that spirit, that primordial Breath, fragile as I am, into something clear, something beautiful, some one thing that contains it all. So that I can say in truth:

I am the hawk that cries out,
I am the wind,
I am the small one hiding,
I am the wing,
I am the hunger and the food,
I am the danger,
I am the beauty,
I am the bone,
I am the Fire.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Thunder and Fire


Thunder went silent. We moved back from our doorway to the still interior. August brings danger from the sky where coastal and mountain air currents meet and clash. While thunder reached its hand across the clouds, we opened our sunflower hearts, ready to be shaken by a Thing so far and near we cannot fathom it, nor resist laying ourselves open to its Fire.

This morning I've gone silent too, thinking of the vows I once took while kneeling in full sight of the Eternal Wild, The Awe, The Infinite Wind, The Thunder, The Complete Silence. She who knelt there never rose from her knees. She kneels and her forehead bends closer to earth each morning. Raindrops still adorn blades of grass. The thorn tree weeps.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SMOKE

MORNING TO THE SOUTHEAST

It's hard to breathe. Northwest winds carry the smoke from Big Windy and Brimstone across our hill and down into the Rogue Valley.

Oh breath. So precious.

I venture out with my camera. Hidden sunrise, not even a wash of rose but more a dusky tinge to the heavy gray. Breathe. On the nightly news we are told about the particulates in the air. We see them smeared in black across our white protective masks. We are told our condition is hazardess. We are told to stay in our air conditioning. What do they do who have none?

Where we live we see no fire. How far the smoke travels from its point of origin.

As age advanced upon me I expected to become at least a little bit wise. But the brighter the fire I feel within me, the more obscure the reality I see. Smoke provokes uncertainty so much that each breath, each step requires faith.

To see differently, releasing the known landscape.
To know nothing for sure.
To be dependent on the Wind.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

This Having Been Earthly

Mo and I wandered down the road this morning to the mailbox to see if the proof for my new novel, The FarNear Journals had arrived. We went slowly. The road is steep and in places the stones skid on the dry and dusty way. Mo wanted the journey to be faster and pulled on the leash which was locked so I could more easily swing my walking stick. Leaves from the madrone had fallen and lay like old coins on the path. At the pace I walked I could see everything I passed--the tunnel webs of the brown recluse spiders who have been prolific this year in the long dry grass, the tough moss-green star thistle, holes marking the tunnels of ground squirrels, the curling bark of the young manzanita, clumps of mistletoe on branches of oak. What would it be like to travel the world this way, like a Russian pilgrim, the Jesus Prayer spiraling non-stop through mind and heart?

At the mailbox the road was quiet. Inside the box, a few letters, no book.

Making our way back up the hill, we stopped by the pear tree to admire the elegant Flemish Beauty and take a picture. During the past week I've been re-reading the poetry of Rilke, and on Saturday I ordered his Letters on Life, selections from over a thousand of those letters to friends, family and other poets. The pear made me think of a passage that struck me yesterday:

"The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed into magnificent sense."


 But to have been
once, even though only once:
this having been earthly seems
lasting, beyond repeal.

All that we
can achieve here, is to recognize
ourselves completely
in what can be seen on earth

RANIER MARIA RILKE
DUINO ELEGIES (NR 9)







  

Friday, July 5, 2013

PENSIVE



Sunset at Bandon Dunes



 
Last time we visited Bandon By The Sea I was captured by the sunset. Moments arrive, unlike any others, when experience of being is unlimited, and whatever it is that I am seems to disappear into the immensity. Inside of that Close and Endless, or in the words of Marguerite Porete: the FarNear, the surf crashes on sand, gulls call, grasses sway, and the edges of what I call myself are gone.
 

Is not the whole point of life to live it fully?

To stretch myself from one end of it to the other,
Pulled taut by the tension of love
Tantalized by life’s beauty
Being both star and seed, planted
In ether and in earth?
 
-from my novel The FarNear Journals



Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Jewel in the Eternal Crown

My dear sister, Liz, and me in 1972

Today marks the end to our family's year of mourning. Liz crossed into eternity on this day in 2012. My heart and soul are full of her. She seems to be everywhere. I think I will never stop saying Thank You for her life, her wisdom, and the courage she showed in her choice to remain with all of us for those many years of her battle with cancer. Such a beautiful one...an old soul.

Friday, May 3, 2013

DEEP TIME

I can't get my arms around the trees in the back yard. In my thirteen years of living here their growth from day to day was imperceptible, but I see it now. It isn't just because the screw for hanging the hammock has disappeared into the bark. (I need to mark it somehow so no future owner gets it in mind to aim a power saw at that spot.) I can actually see that the trunks are wider by a lot. I can see that the little evergreen, that defies its name and turns orange every year as though it is certainly dead, and then sprouts millions of delicate green needles, is easily twice the height it was that first May in 2000. I felt so bad over its "death" and thought we'd need to cut it down. It makes a person question the whole concept of death.

Nature in the yard is older, and so am I. The volunteer seedlings of 2000 are over twelve feet tall and will be taller come June. The biggest oak, though, is over four-hundred years rooted in that same spot. Its trunk widens, but it exercises a careful economy on its branches--just enough for leaves to catch the necessary sunlight. It is not a lush tree, growing as it does into thin soil and mountain rock.

Trees live in deep time. Not so deep as the time of stars, but far deeper than what I can know for my individual self. In my connections, though, to the entirety of human unfolding, my time is deeper even than my back yard oak. In what kind of seed do we begin? Were we present eternally in the desire of God for a cosmic Person--a form into which Infinite Being could pour Itself --- a cosmos that would unfold eternally because of its infinitude. Am I a conscious cell of that? An individual participant in that eternal unfolding?

It excites me to think so.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is NOW too fast?

Transformation
It's hard to focus on the present moment, hard to stay in the I Am that only is real right now. This morning I wrote this to a friend:

"You seem to me to be a person who gives yourself completely to each manifestation of Divine Reality as you perceive it in the moment. The suffering, I think, comes from our attempts to understand and categorize those experiences--asking "what does it mean?" And my experience is that the meaning of the past experience changes with each new realization, and the present experience only yields its meaning in retrospect--right while the meaning is already transforming because of the new place we stand." It was a new articulation of a formerly hazy thought.

At first I almost deleted this photo. The speed of the car turned land and trees into visions of wind.  Nothing is solid. Halos appear. Fortunately I realized before I hit the delete key that this is actually a great picture to illustrate this morning's realization.

Today I am meeting with a dear group of friends to discuss the question: "Picture yourself 100 years from now. What piece of wisdom would you have for yourself today?" What will I share? Really, I don't know--but I do know that it has something to do with the question posed by this photograph and the articulation of something I didn't know I knew until I tried to share it with a friend.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Three Holy Things




Always have God before your eyes wherever you go.
Whatever you are doing, have the testimony of holy scripture to hand.
Wherever you are living, do not be in a hurry to move away.
               -Abba Anthony of the Desert

This morning John quoted a line from a book he received from his former classmate, Richard John Frielander. "In the Eastern confession of the Christian way Sacred Tradition rules theology and practice the way the Pope directs the Catholic Church and the Bible sets the bounds for Protestants." So now, John said, we just need to find out what Sacred Tradition means. Our recent desert pilgrimage calls us to delve more deeply into those traditions which place the human soul in the “marrow of flame” at the living center of God.

At St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery John bought The Book of the Elders, a compilation of “sayings” of the desert Fathers (Abbas) and Mothers (Ammas). And I was attracted by an icon the monk told me was St. Mary of the Desert, but who, on research, turned out to be Amma Syncletike. 

Both of these women were fifth century desert mothers, but Syncletike’s life more closely resembles that of Santa Chiara to whom our home is dedicated. Divine attraction is always accurate even if we are blind at first to where it leads.

These treasures remained in a bag in the back seat of the car until we arrived home.

A week later, in Prescott, AZ, we happened into the Old Sage Bookshop, and I was led to a book titled Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey, by Dorothy Walters. I’d never heard of her, but I picked the book up anyway. Opening it at random, I read:

Something inside me
constantly bleeds towards God.

That’s why I keep writing
slipping messages under the door.

Well, that hit home! So I turned it over and discovered it was published by Hohm Press: John’s publisher. I read half of Dorothy’s poems that evening. The next day was the day I met Regina who spoke of Dorothy as “the real thing.” A true Amma. An elder, already in her eighties, she writes of the presence of the Divine Beloved within the human soul. She transcends religious structures. Now that I’ve returned to Casa Chiara, I’ve visited her blog and come to know her better. The traditions continue to be lived out in solitary hearts, in the direct communication of human with divine.

Whatever you look at, see God.
Whatever you do, act from God’s Word in your heart.
Wherever you are, BE.




Sunday, March 31, 2013

Holy Thursday at Zion

Into Zion National Park


We've satiated ourselves on beauty. This is truly a HOLY week for us; everywhere we look--Holy. Breathing Holy in, breathing out Holy. So much beauty I want to tell you all at once and my fingers catch fire, my breath becomes sparks of light. What do we do when the boundaries disappear and we are the mountain, are the coral colored sand, are the hawks, the antelopes, the wind? 

I've wandered in the eyes of at least three magnificent women these past two days. I finally got to meet Regina Sara Ryan and I want to meet her again and again over whatever life remains. We sat outside with John and Mo at the Wild Iris Coffee Shop in Prescott, AZ, and spoke of wonder and writing (she's the editor for Hohm Press where John's Yearning For The Father was published). She and I discovered we had walked similar paths in life. Synchronicities began to appear, and then the urge to share every book, every person, every place and way and song that has held meaning.

The other two women I spoke with only briefly. One in a trading post somewhere past Cameron on the way to Zion. She came rushing in to tell the owner that she knew she was late but her electricity had gone out, and then she began enumerating a flurry of other things that had gone wrong that morning, but I couldn't focus on words because I was so caught up in the most amazing eyes I have ever seen. They were silver blue with violet rings around the iris which made them gleam as if light shone on brightly polished silver underneath the purest of mountain streams. I had to tell her: "I know you had a flurry of troubles this morning, but you also have the most amazing eyes I have ever seen." She grinned. "I have my father's eyes," she said. Then I paid for a Zion sweatshirt, and she was gone. Don't you wonder about such chance meetings and the ripples they cause? I can still feel those ripples from her eyes.

Then I met a Navajo woman named Sally. She was selling homemade jewelry by the side of the road. Some of it I could have put together myself with stones and beads from Fire Mountain in Grants Pass. I really wanted to buy something from her. Then I glimpsed a primitive turquoise necklace, two long strands of green stones shot through with brown, each stone separated from the next by those tiny Navajo seed beads that have a specific name but I can't recall it at the moment. I picked it up. 

"Grandma made that," she said.

Immediately I thought of the Grandmothers, those wise women from various traditions and communities. Perhaps you've heard of them. I once leafed through a book containing their stories and photographs of their old and beautiful faces. I think of these elder women as the ground that keeps our world from spinning off into chaos. I think of them as weavers who create patterns by which our world can live. Of course I bought the necklace because it was sacred to me. And I will wear it as sacred beads, as connection to the Grandmothers and to earth.

"What is your grandmother's name?"

"Julia." Ah, yes. The jewel. 

Sally
The beauty of the women, the beauty of the earth. How can I not be grateful to belong to such a sacred community as this? All through Zion my heart beat an earth rhythm, the golden earth reflected the sun, each moment fell into the one before as into the eternal



Friday, March 22, 2013

The Desert Will Flower

Along the highway south towards Florence, AZ, the desert flowers are in bloom. Such a gasp of color--such a cummings-like "sweet small feet of April into the ragged meadows of my soul." More than normal winter rains turned the mountains green and filled the washes with yellow, coral, lavendar, creamy white, blossoms. The Joshua tree branches burgeon with a spring green that is almost white.

We were on our way with Mike and Darlene Weber to the  St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery. In 1996 Monks came to the Arizona desert from Mount Athos in Greece to begin construction of this magnificent and holy place. Much of the design and art work came directly from Greece. As we prepared to visit, clothes were a big consideration. It was a bit like going into a foreign country. Women wear veils or shawls and long skirts. Men need to cover their arms and legs -- so long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the desert heat. We had a moderate day, though, so heat wasn't a problem. Darlene, Mike and I caught up on the Weber news as we made the hour long trip south from Mesa past the little town of Florence where the monastery is located. At a gathering place at the entrance to the large grounds, we were checked for appropriate clothing. I passed muster even though my sleeves came midway between my wrists and elbows. Something in me is ok with this monastic dress code, but something else questions the theology of human nature that requires it. I dropped all that for the time being and simply relaxed into the holy beauty of the place itself.

The main church of St. Anthony--icons everywhere--and gold

Our Lady of Arizona


A pilgrim in Prayer
St. George's Chapel---or maybe it was St. Nicholas (sorry, bad memory for details)

The monastery has seven chapels dedicated to the elders -- those holy "mothers and fathers of monasticism" who have gone before.

desert in bloom


The walkways from chapel to chapel were beautifully landscaped with desert plants and large trees that provided shade. I loved these little pink flowers.

and these on a branch of of what seemed a desert cedar
When we first began walking the paths, many of the monks were still outside working. They soon disappeared, probably into their various residences, because no one was in any of the chapels.

Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom)

The reproductions of icons we found in the gift store can't do justice to the originals -- hundreds of them -- that cover the walls in the chapels. They are breathtaking. I was constantly lagging behind taking pictures of them, but now I discover that I missed some of my favorites simply because I don't read Greek! So I didn't know who they were. But I ought to have snapped a picture anyhow. My hearts aches for St. Mary of Egypt, one of the desert mothers whose eyes haunted the barren rocks and whose chanting echoed off the stones.

The final chapel was that of St. Seraphim, the most honored of the desert fathers. That's the holy man in white. Here was the first place I really wanted to kneel. More like a roadside shrine than a chapel, it radiated the simplicity of those early Greek Orthodox hermits of the desert. I could have stayed ... and stayed. Hurrying to catch up, I found the others on the way to the gift shop where John bought a book of the sayings of the Elders (the desert mothers and fathers), and I bought a small icon of St. Mary of Egypt because when I held the work in my hands it wouldn't allow me to put it back on the shelf. I suspect she has something important to tell me, so I will listen in the silence of my heart.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In the Desert

Many have written of the desert, and especially of the high desert. John is writing about the realm of desert spirituality now, as he progresses in his work on Mystic Mountain, in which he claims to be writing everything he knows about God and the spiritual journey of human life. It's early morning on this particular day at a Holiday Inn Express in the high desert of Lancaster, CA. Both of us are more than usually quiet, attempting to recover from a twelve hour drive yesterday. May whatever I possess of common sense prevent me from such a stunt ever again. Maybe, though, this exhaustion is the way the desert has its way with us. The wind. The heat. The dry. I've slowed to the speed of bare feet on rocks. My eyes squint at he chimera on the horizon.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

YOU WILL BE THE LIGHT

Image by Alison
A line from my reading about Chiara of Assisi stopped me early this morning. My eyes went back and back to it. "God loved everything into being." Well, of course. I knew that. Did I? With my mind I did. But with my heart? Back again the line of words pulled my vision, and back again. Everything. But some things seem so dark. Some things I don't want to look at. I want them outside my line of vision. I want to close my heart, close my mind, close my door. But I couldn't deny it: God's imagination is infinite, and everything God imagines is loved and love actualizes it. During John's and my morning contemplation the thought kept returning. During contemplation I want my mind quiet and open so that the Eternal Spirit can work in me. I tried not to pay attention to the flood of words--distractions. A river, even an ocean of words flooding my mind, then thoughts of the computer, thoughts of songs. that great song by Delores Keane, "You'll Never Be the Sun." I heard the melody in my mind. Such an inspired song. Such a fine artist. "Even on the deepest ocean, you will be the light."

OH. Now how can I say this? I'll start this way--here's what I saw. I saw all those "distractions" shimmering with light. I saw them dancing through my mind on a light within me. I saw that everything, no matter how dark it seems to my own judgment, can shine in that light. It's a way of looking and a way of surrendering. I don't have to try. I don't have to get rid of anything. I don't need to chase away what I don't like. I can simply sit there and let it come and go and be bathed in that light I don't cause, that both isn't me and IS. What a relief! Everything, every unique thing, every material, mental, emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual thing in all of the created universe has been loved into being--and all any of us needs to do is let light shine upon it.

So -- I give you a lovely contemplation of Delores Keane's song along with Teri Gower's photographs that shine light into the deepest dark.

Contemplation of Light

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

TREE OF LIFE

Ancient-Tree-Love by Alison Scott
Holy Lent begins today. I'm thinking of trees, of this tree, of the tree of the cross, of the Tree of Life. The tree from the movie, Avatar, comes to mind; how could it not? And I'm also thinking of violence, and who is not? I'm thinking of Mother Earth and how we humans in North Korea stuck a shaft of metal inside her and then blew it up. That's not the first place we did that. How we have shaken her. I'm thinking of the random shootings, violence of all kinds. Violence of word, of action, of avoidance. Stupid, meaningless, avoidable violence. I'm angry and my anger makes the violence feel personal, and I want to kneel, I want the to be marked with the earth's clay, I want to cry out FORGIVE!

Just look at dear Alison's tree. Look how old she is, how wizened, how amputated of limb, and yet how she is still alive. Look at the green.

I feel wild. I want to rant and rave, to dig in the dirt, to smear it on my face, to confess my sins, to throw my illusions on the fire, to burn all my false hopes, to turn them to ashes and turn again, and turn.

Be converted (turned again) and live is the watchword of this time, a Wednesday of Ashes. Can I? Can we?  Chiara tells us that the tree of the cross is a mirror. She says to look in that mirror until we see ourselves. OH. MY. GOD. The one I see has submitted to and become the violence of the world simply for the love of everything that is. I pray to understand. I pray to know how to turn the whirlwinds of violence within myself into love, into the fire of love, a roaring consummation of all that hinders life.

"This is what Clare asks us to consider in the mirror--are we willing only to look on suffering from a distance or to shut it out from our lives or control it by whatever means possible? Or are we willing to enter more fully into the suffering of the other to know God and ourselves in a deeper way?...Discovering who we are--our identity--in the mirror of the cross empowers us to embrace ourselves despite our brokenness and flaws and, in turn, to embrace others with their brokenness and flaws. In the mirror of the cross we discover what it truly means to be loved by someone greater than ourselves." (CLARE OF ASSISI: A Heart Full of Love. By Ilia Delio.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

We Rise in Darkness



First coffee comes at 5:30 this morning. The quarter moon has already set and except for the brilliance of stars, the hermitage wakes in darkness. The nights already grow shorter, however. Since the December solstice we’ve gained a half hour of daylight in the morning and another half hour in the evening. With midday temperatures in the sixties, the itch of spring already teases our afternoons. And already, I’m missing the winter.
We are creatures of the dark. We are conceived and our bodies form in darkness. We protest with all the strength of our newbie lungs when we are pulled into the light of birth. Our vital organs function in the darkness of our shells. Thoughts smolder in the darkness of our minds until we breathe them into daylight. Darkness, even though it has come to represent danger or evil, is our most natural element and, during the winter months of introspection, is the actual condition in which we spend most of our hours.
No wonder the spiritual masters insist that Spirit can lead us to the Godhead only in obscurity, that we can glimpse divinity in this life only as “through a glass darkly.” John of the Cross wrote of the dark nights of the senses and spirit, “To reach a place that you know not, you must go by a way that you know not.” No wonder, then, that our deepest inclination is to plunge ourselves in darkness, like plants that in their botanical wisdom root themselves in the rich underground.
The message of winter, the message Christin’s sister Liz received during her final weeks, is “Be still and wait.” Endurance is all in the “bleak midwinter” until we are led once more to the annual renewal of spring.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

-Wendell Berry, "To Know the Dark"


~John